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March 4, 2013

Social media a tool for area groups

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — Facebook, Twitter — those are some of the social media platforms popular in today’s society. 

Most area organizations and people interviewed about the subject said that at least some form of this interactive style of communications is important to their efforts.

“We can’t be face-to-face with everyone,” but this can create the next best thing, Vibrant Creative President Chris Quereau said. The company is a brand development and advertising agency with offices in Oneonta and other locations. 

“For a membership organization it is a must,” he said.

Social media provides an opportunity to share information and communicate online, he said. Beyond Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn is used to make make professional connections, as well listservs that allow members to share articles and comments.

To be successful on one of these platforms, an organization or business has to focus its content, Quereau said. Some make the mistake of thinking they need different material for each, he said, but sometimes the same information that appears in a newsletter can be used on Facebook. If something doesn’t work, the idea is to find the right mixture, he said.

Whatever happens in terms of popularity of a particular platform, “this type of communication is not going anywhere,” Quereau said. It’s important for businesses and other organizations to have have a “comfort level” with it. It’s not a replacement for other media. Instead, “it’s another tool in the tool box,” he said.

Kim MacLeod, State University College of Technology at Delhi director of communications and new media, said the college started working with Vibrant Creative several years ago to find better ways to use social media. It has become an important part of the college’s communications.

When it started, the college wanted to better reach alumni and increase participation in their events, MacLeod said. It now is used to reach prospective students.

The college needed some plan to reach out to alumni beyond the traditional newsletter, she said. Starting with a postcard invitation to the alumni Facebook page, it now has more than 2,000 “likes” — or followers.

Social media provides more of a “conversation” than traditional methods. She sees it as “an enhancement to what we were doing.”

The most popular form is Facebook — that was where most of the alumni and students were when the effort started. It now uses such forms as Twitter and LinkedIn.

A web engagement intern works with her to keep social media “relevant,” she said. Currently Corey LaMonica fills the post. He did a survey of incoming freshmen that showed that Instagram, that shares pictures, is very popular. “We are trying to find ways to incorporate that into our strategy,” she said.

The one person who said the newer forms of communication were not useful for her purposes was Gilbertsville and Butternuts historian Leigh Eckmair.

While she uses the Internet extensively, “I do not use any social media,” she said. She is active in historic preservation and local history but keeps in touch with contacts through phone calls and email.

“When I contact people it’s about a specific request. I’d rather talk on the telephone, I get a much better feel with the personal contact.”

Otsego Chamber Executive Director Barbara Ann Heegan said social media is an important part of the mixture of tools her organization uses to promote its activities and message. Traditional media, including newspaper and radio, will always be an important way to reach people. However, she is also using newer ways such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

As director of marketing at the Plains of Parish Homestead for five years she learned to use social media as a means to help reach people. She brought those skills to the chamber when she started last year.

Sustainable Otsego started in 2007 over a concern over environmental issues, moderator Adrian Kuzminski said. When fracking became a point of focus a year later it was a natural issue for the group to oppose.

Through its listserv, it built up a group of 700 subscribers to present news and information important to its members. The organization is tied together by the social network that allows people to share information.

He is not a Facebook user and said it was less useful for this type of organization that is more “word of mouth” and fostered by the listserv.

One of the reasons that a community effort get so big last year to help the Unatego Central School deal with tough budget issues was its Facebook page, co-chairman Florian Reyda said.

The organization had a Facebook page with 550 members. There is 41 this year.

If he had to do it all over again, Reyda said he would have made sure that ground rules were in place so negative language used on the page would have resulted in a person being removed. 

Without that, a small group polarized the discussions, and the page was taken down last spring. When it was restored this year, there were fewer people involved. That may have contributed to reduced participation this year, he said.